OK, this is L.A.'s year
Carlos Ruiz broke the MLS record for postseason scoring.
By Steve Almasy
The Los Angeles Galaxy have been consistently good but have no MLS titles in three previous championship berths. And every ensuing preseason it seems, I pick them to win MLS Cup.
This is our year to be right.
The Revs will undoubtedly focus attention on Carlos Ruiz, the young Guatemalan striker who led MLS in goals in the regular season (24) and playoffs (7). He's quick, hard-working and he gets in position to score. And if the match is tied late, Ruiz has proved he's most dangerous in the final stages.
While the hobbled Taylor Twellman has Wolde Harris as his complement, Ruiz has United States national team veteran Cobi Jones helping in the attack. Jones is one of those money players who excels in the biggest games. Expect one of those two to score the first goal Sunday. And if it comes from a Ruiz-to-Jones setup, don't be surprised despite Ruiz's low number of assists.
Veteran Alexi Lalas has been extremely steady in the back all season, particularly since Sigi Schmid freed him up as a sweeper behind two athletic marking backs in Danny Califf and Tyrone Marshall. Lalas and his mates on the league's top defense should be able to stifle the Revolution's attack with solid positional play.
And former MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Kevin Hartman is fully capable of making the big diving save.
Schmid, incidentally, missed out on winning his second Coach of the Year award, this time losing to Cup foe Steve Nicol.
But really it comes down to Ruiz and Jones against the Revs' league-worst defense. The title finally heads to Southern California on Sunday.
Four days later, the Galaxy can cement their status as the best in the land and capture an unprecedented triple -- regular-season crown, MLS Cup championship and U.S. Open Cup title -- with a win at Columbus Crew Stadium in the Open Cup final.
Revved by home crowd
Taylor Twellman won the scoring race before his injury.
By Jeff Green
No doubt about it -- the Los Angeles Galaxy are the best team in Major League Soccer. But the New England Revolution will win MLS Cup.
The Galaxy had the league's top regular-season defense (1.18 goals per game), and the Revs had the worst (1.75). But the most telling numbers come Sunday will be these: 12 men against 11. The Galaxy will be outnumbered, and there will be more than 40,000 screaming reasons that the home team will have the edge at Gillette Stadium.
It is L.A.'s misfortune -- and the ticket sellers' good fortune -- that this year's neutral site became a home game for New England. While the Galaxy were nearly unbeatable at home this year (11-1-2), they were just 5-8-1 on the road. The only other home team in MLS Cup history, D.C. United in 1997, won 2-1. And that was a rare MLS Cup where the losing team didn't go by the name "Los Angeles Galaxy." Two of their three Cup losses were in Foxboro.
The Revs' woeful defensive numbers don't paint the full picture. Under the guidance of interim coach Steve Nicol, they added Mali's Daouda Kante in central defense beside Carlos Llamosa and finished the season with a six-game unbeaten streak -- outscoring their foes 13-3. Goalkeeper Adin Brown has allowed just four goals in six playoff games (0.64 per game), and the defense will key on shutting down L.A.'s potent one-two punch of Cobi Jones and Carlos Ruiz.
The Revs made up for allowing 1.75 goals per game by scoring the exact same amount to post MLS's highest total, led by 22-year-old league scoring champion Taylor Twellman.
Whether or not the hobbled Twellman is able to take the field against the league's 23-year-old top goalscorer in Ruiz, the Revs will find the scoring touch they need -- whether it's forgotten 2001 MVP Alex Pineda Chacon or a less likely candidate such as their leading playoff scorer, Brian Kamler.
Mark it down as two "football" championships this year for the Kraft family and New England's teams of destiny.